History of Shechem
The Hebrew name is probably derived from the word for “back” or “shoulder” – an apt description of Shechem’s location in the narrow valley between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal approximately 65 km North of Jerusalem. It was strategically located controlling major North-South and East-West roads, but lacked natural defenses and for that reason required heavy fortification. In addition to Jacob’s Well (400m to the South East) it is thought that the city derived its water supply via a conduit from a cave in Mt. Gerizim, while the fertile plain of ‘Askar provided the city with food.
Shechem was the location of numerous events of Bible History: The place is first mentioned when Abram (see Abraham) arrived in what would become the land of Israel. The Lord appeared to him there and promised the land to his descendants. Abram then built an altar there (Genesis 12:6-7).
When Jacob returned from Paddan-Aram with Leah and Rachel, after his meeting with Esau, he purchased land from the sons of Hamor at Shechem (Genesis 33:18-19). The incident involving Dinah and Shechem, the son of Chamor the Chivite who had the same name as the city, occurred around Shechem, and it was there that her brothers Levi and Simeon took their revenge (Genesis 34:1-31). Joseph’s brothers were herding sheep near Shechem before they sold him away to Egypt (Genesis 37:12)
In the time of Joshua, the area was allotted to the tribe of Ephraim (Joshua 16:1-10, 17:1-18)
Joseph’s remains, that the Israelites under Moses and Aaron had brought out of Egypt with them in the Exodus, was buried at the plot of ground that Jacob had purchased there (Joshua 24:32)
After the death of Solomon, Rehoboam was made king of Israel at Shechem (1 Kings 12:1, 2 Chronicles 10:1). After the Israelites split into two kingdoms, Jeroboam became the first king of the new northern kingdom of Israel at Shechem (1 Kings 12:25) (see Kings of Israel and Judah.
- Shechem is not mentioned by name in the New Testament, however Jesus would have often travelled through the city. His conversation with the Samaritan woman occurred in the area (John 4:1-26). Biblical Shechem was destroyed by the Assyrians in the 8th century BCE.
Nablus, known as the site of biblical Shechem, is one of the largest Palestinian cities with a population of more than 50,000 people. The area of Biblical Shechem can be found in the Balata neighborhood in the south-eastern section of the city. Inside the area known as Biblical Shechem are the remains of a defensive wall, a 3,600-year-old Hyksos temple and Joseph’s Tomb. Jacob’s well, found inside a Greek Orthodox monastery. This site is also holy for Christians who believe Jesus spoke here to a Samaritan woman.
The modern city of Nablus derived its name from a Roman town that was founded in 72 CE, which was close to the biblical city of Shechem. Originally the town was known as Flavia Neopolis, but it was eventually shortened into Nablus, after the Arab conquest in 636 CE.
During the period of the Crusader rule, in the 12th century, Nablus was renamed Naples. A palace and citadel were built by the Crusaders and it became the second most important city in the kingdom.
Inside the city of Nablus, at the entrance to the casbah, the traditional city center, there are the remains of an amphitheater built in the 3rd century CE, when Nablus was a Roman city. Near Nablus’s market is a tower erected in 1902 by the Turkish Sultan Abdul Hamid, a house used by the Turkish governor and the main mosque.
The Home of Munib al Masri
The home of the rich Palestinian contractor overlooks the city of Nablus from Mount Gerizim.
Mount Gerizim and the Samaraitans (Shomronim)
Mount Gerizim is another place considered holy by the Jews and the Samaritans. A Samaritan temple was built on Mount Gerizim in the 4th century BCE. At the end the second century BCE, the temple was destroyed by Yohanan Hyrcanos I and was converted into a Temple to Zeus by Antiochus II in 170 BCE.
In 484, the site changed hands again, this time to the Byzantine emperor Zenon, who built a church on the site. Below you can see the panoramic view from Mount Gerizim at the site of the ancient entrance to the Byzantine Church. The church is not built as a basilica, but is a round church. The center of the church is built just above the Holy of Holies of the Samaritan temple.
Today, only 600 Samaritans remain and about half live in Nablus and the other half live in Holon, near Tel Aviv. Every year the Samaritans continue to make an annual Passover sacrifice on Mount Gerizim.
West of Mount Gerizim, is the Samaritan quarter. Inside the quarter, there is a synagogue that contains Samaritan Torah scrolls believed to date back to the 13th year of settlement of the Israelites in Canaan. The Samaritan children in the clip are Israeli citizens, living in Palestinian Nablus, speaking both Arabic and Hebrew. See the smiling kids recite their Hebrew prayers.
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